Ballet brilliance

Swan Lake, music by Tchaikovsky, The Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Regent Theatre Ipswich, Friday 29th February 2008

Swan Lake, music by Tchaikovsky, The Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Regent Theatre Ipswich, Friday 29th February 2008

The French may have invented ballet, but it was the Russians who gave it soul.

The talented young dancers from Krasnoyarsk in Siberia proved that last night as they delighted a packed-out Regent with an absolutely magical performance of the greatest romantic ballet of them all.

Ballerina Maria Kuimova danced the dual role of the bewitched Swan Queen Odette and her evil double, the black swan Odile. She was impressive in the same role a year ago (the company is making a very welcome return visit) but this time she was brilliant. In the last twelve months, this young, gifted artist (Kuimova is 23) has honed her technique and deepened her characterisation to develop a truly captivating interpretation. Her Odette was sorrowful and fragile - with especially beautiful arm movements, while her Odile was strong, seductive and triumphant.

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In the Black Swan pas de deux, the ballerina has to perform a daunting set of 32 fouett├ęs, a seemingly endless sequence of turns on the spot. Thirty two must be difficult enough but, to ecstatic applause, Kuimova topped this by throwing in several double turns. Magnificent.

Arkady Zinov was an ardent Prince Siegfried, partnering Kuimova with a tender skill and easily spanning the Regent stage with his high leaps. Also impressive were the four cygnets, perfectly in synch in their famous bobbing dance, and Taisia Vasilkova, a supple and glamorous Spanish princess. Ivan Karnaukhov as the prince's friend Benno, and Demid Zykov as Rothbart also showed great virtuosity.

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Artistic Director Sergei Bobrov's production has made a few changes to the traditional scenario that work very well. It's a clever touch, for instance, to have the aspiring brides competing for the hand of the Prince, lead the national dances of their respective countries and a pleasure to see and hear the rarely performed Russian Dance. Here Arina Iakovleva was a charmingly demure Russian Princess accompanied by superb violin playing from orchestra leader Antonia Rogatkina. In fact, the playing from the decent sized orchestra conducted by Anatoly Tchepurnoi was pretty distinguished throughout.

Bobrov's revised ending was effective, too. The Prince's life or death struggle with the evil demon ends with him drowning in the billowing waters of the lake, while the distraught Odette is left alone, dancing forlornly to a reprise of the earlier love duet. But has she been freed from the magician's spell, or is she now condemned forever to her twilight world?

I was less convinced by the attempt to put a psychological slant on the story by making Rothbart, a wicked magician in the original, a sort of manifestation of the dark side of the Prince's character. This approach over-complicates the plot and seems at odds with the medieval myth and its simple message of the redemptive power of love. But this was a minor quibble in an evening of glorious dancing.

James Hayward

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